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Shadow Manor

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Rufus Gold acquired a wife like he acquired everything in life: methodically and with cold precision. He compiled a list with conditions his wife to be was required to meet: She had to provide him with an heir for his large estate and his manor, so she needed to be fertile. He would prefer someone who at least knew how to use the brain capacity she was given, since he didn’t intend to spend the rest of his days with someone who didn’t know left from right. He didn’t think these terms were hard to meet, so if she was slightly decorative on top of it, he would consider himself content. After drawing up his list, he hired someone to find him a range of young women willing to marry in exchange for wealth. The women in question had to provide a medical certificate that attested them to be fertile and free of STIs, school certificates, and a video of themselves answering a questionnaire Gold had compiled. After all, he was thorough, and didn’t take this quest lightly. So, when he finally chose the woman he intended to marry, she knew what he expected from her. Money wasn’t an issue for him, so the very large and oddly precise amount of money she demanded didn’t play into his considerations, and after sending her a very detailed contract, they met for the first time in front of Storybrooke City Hall to have a civil marriage. Isabelle French was pale when she shook his hand for the first time, and she didn’t wear the expression he would have expected, that of a fortune hunter achieving her goal. She hardly smiled when she gritted out his name between white teeth, and she drew back her hand as if his touch was poisonous.

“You understood the conditions of this arrangement, dearie?”, he asked, and she narrowed her eyes.

“I did, yes. I have to provide you with a descendant within fifteen months, you will pay me the sum I ask in exchange. Are you planning an in-vitro-fertilization?”

Her voice didn’t shake, he had to give her that, even when her eyes were as cold as the ice their color resembled. “I am proposing marriage”, he said, and she clenched her jaws.

“So you aren’t purchasing a breeding mare. You are purchasing a whore.”

“Is that a problem for you?”

She looked him up and down, from his impeccable tie down to his shoes, her eyes resting for a split second longer on his hands folded over his cane than on the rest of him, and her nostrils flared. “No.”

She was a desperate soul, desperate enough to sell herself to him, and he almost allowed his conscience to take pity on her. But he quelled that notion, telling himself that she knew full well what she was getting into. She had her reasons, he had his. And she didn’t hesitate to sign her name on the dotted line beside his. Neither did she hesitate to climb into his car, after depositing her suitcase in the trunk, and let him take her out of town and to his home.

Shadow Manor was situated at the end of a long avenue, lined with ancient oak trees. When the vast shadow of his house fell over them, Gold was only the tiniest bit disappointed at her lack of reaction. She hardly glanced at the impressive outside of his house, instead hauling her suitcase out of the car and gluing her eyes to the gravel, waiting for him to take her inside. He showed her to her room, and he wasn’t blind to the brief flicker of relief on her face.

“There’s plenty of room in this house. No need to cram the two of us into one bedroom.” He gestured into the room, and she followed his movements with her eyes, a slight frown on her face.

“When do you plan to consummate this marriage?”, she asked, and for the first time, Gold found a flaw in his carefully laid out plans. He had no idea.

“Whenever you are ready”, he answered, after contemplating his options. “Which should be at some point over the next six months.”

“I can do the math, thank you very much.” And with that, she closed the door into his face, without giving him the chance to lay out some ground rules for their interactions. He needed to remember to ban closing doors into each other’s face from those interactions.

Later, after giving her some time to unpack, he sent Mrs. Lucas up to fetch his wife for dinner, but instead of his wife, it was Mrs. Lucas who entered the dining room with an expression as if she was sentenced to face her execution, not her employer.

“She says she isn’t coming.”

“And did she say why?” Although he kept his voice leveled, Mrs. Lucas flinched. Usually, she didn’t behave like a scared little mouse, and it was this fearlessness of him that he treasured in her, but now she acted as if she suspected him of doing all kinds of ugly things if she displeased him.

“She said she isn’t hungry.” Her voice was quavering, and she took a step back when he rose from his chair at the head of the heavy dining room table. Gold considered his options while taking the stairs up to the second floor of the east wing, and his steps were graver than usual. The bones in his bad leg prickled, and he leant heavier on his cane than he used to, feeling the weight of stale air and expectations of dead ancestry resting on his shoulders like a headstone. He didn’t want to start his marriage like that. When he knocked at the door to her room with the handle of his cane, he didn’t expect her to open, and he took a step back when she did, facing him with her eyebrows drawn together and her shoulders squared.

“I’d like you to join me for dinner”, he said, and she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes again, observing him like some strange insect under a looking glass.

“Are you aware that, although you married me today, you didn’t offer me your first name, nor even as much as a toast?”

Gold took another step back and gripped his cane a little tighter. Her words didn’t exactly seem to be an answer to his invitation (which was a demand, in truth, and they both knew it), and he was not sure how to deal with them.

“I signed my name on the papers, and you set yours beside it.”

“Yes, but am I allowed to call you with your given name, or do you prefer something else? Shall I call you Mr. Gold? Husband? Master?” She took a step out of her room, coming closer, and her eyes didn’t leave his face, not even when she intonated the last word like a challenge.

“Rufus will do just fine”, he growled, and stepped back when she came closer again.

“It means red haired.”

“I know.” He tried not to flinch when she raised her eyebrows and swept her eyes over him once more.

“You aren’t red haired”, she stated, and he gritted his teeth.

“I know. It’s a family name. I’m the last of a long line of firstborns bearing the name Rufus.”

“Our firstborn won’t bear the name Rufus.”

“Why don’t you come down to join me for dinner before we get down to business with naming our children?” He gestured down the hall, but this time she didn’t follow the movement, instead drilling her gaze into his.

“You didn’t say you want more than one. One heir, that’s the deal.”

“You called him our firstborn. That implies at least a second child.”

“What happens if it’s a girl?”

“Then my heir is a girl. Now, dinner?” His voice betrayed his growing impatience, and she licked her lips as if they had suddenly gone dry. He knew all the signs of fear, and he reacted on a primal level to it, closing the gap between them with a swift step, wanting to intimidate her and pressing her into submission. But instead of retreating, she straightened her back and squared her jaws, meeting his eyes unblinking.

“My name is Isabelle. You may call me Belle. And I expect you to be civil and not bully me into spending time with you when I don’t want to. And right now, I am not hungry.”

“That’s not the deal we made. This is a marriage.”

“Is it?” Although she didn’t move, she seemed to be much closer all of a sudden, and Gold swallowed the urge to step back again. “Then why don’t you start to behave like a husband and ask me, instead of demanding my presence?”

“Would you join me for dinner? Please?” The last word hardly came over his lips, and he wondered if she knew how much it cost him to say it. He never asked like that. He was the one who cornered others and didn’t leave them a choice. And he had not expected it to be any different with his wife. He paid her for her company, her time and her body. He had been very precise about that. But his new wife lifted her chin, granting him a thin smile before she stepped back into her room and grabbed the doorknob.

“No, thanks.” And with that, she closed her door into his face, for the second time in one day.